What Happens to a Car When the Owner Dies?

There are two ways that the ownership can be transferred, and the court can ultimately determine the legal owner of the vehicle.

Does the Car Owner have a Will?

First, the car owner may leave a will. This means the car owner has died testate, and the will left by the car owner determines who owns the vehicle. Secondly, when a car owner does not leave a will after their passing, then they have passed intestate. This means a court will determine the legal owner of the vehicle.

A Deceased Person’s Car Before Probate (Testate).

If the car owner leaves a will after they have passed the court will approve the will, called a grant of probate, and determine an executor. The executor is responsible for distributing the property identified in the will, which will include the vehicle if listed in the will.

There are some instances when the will won’t need to be probated and the ownership will be transferred automatically once the car owner passes. For example, if the car owner owned the car jointly with another owner and designated the car has a “right to survivorship,” the vehicle will automatically transfer to the other owner. Additionally, if the car owner indicates the vehicle should be “payable upon death” to another person, the car will transfer automatically to another owner after the car owner’s death. A car owner may also form a revocable living trust. A revocable living trust allows assets to automatically transfer under the terms the car owner has listed in the trust agreement.

In both instances, the person claiming ownership of the vehicle must submit an application, found on the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website, to the tax collector’s office. The person claiming ownership must file a certificate of title. If the will is being probated, the person claiming ownership of the will must have a certified copy of the will, and an affidavit stating the estate is not indebted. If the will is not being probated, the person claiming ownership only needs to present a sworn copy of the will, and an affidavit that the estate is not indebted.

Transferring Ownership of a Car When Someone Dies Without a Will (Intestate).

If the car owner passes away without a will, the laws of the State of Florida will decide who receives the title of the vehicle. The person claiming ownership of the car does not have to provide a copy of the will. Instead, the person claiming ownership of the vehicle must provide the application found on the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Website to the tax collector’s office and provide a certificate of title. Additionally, the person claiming ownership of the car needs to provide two affidavits. The first is an affidavit stating the estate is not indebted. The second is an affidavit stating that if there is a surviving spouse, or any surviving heirs, the parties have agreed to how the estate will be divided.


If you are interested in transferring ownership of your vehicle or would like assistance planning your estate, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experienced lawyers. EPGD Business Law is located in beautiful Coral Gables, West Palm Beach and historic Washington D.C. Call us at (786) 837-6787, or contact us through the website to schedule a consultation.

*Disclaimer: this blog post is not intended to be legal advice. We highly recommend speaking to an attorney if you have any legal concerns. Contacting us through our website does not establish an attorney-client relationship.*

Categories: Estate Planning

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